Was Vanilla Ice Cream Originally Black?

A photograph of Morgenstern's Black Ash Coconut was used to illustrate a falsehood about the "original" color of vanilla ice cream.

  • Published 18 January 2017
  • Updated 11 March 2019
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Claim

Vanilla ice cream was originally a deep, dark black color before white people demanded it be changed in 1912.

Rating

Origin

On 18 January 2017 at least two Facebook pages shared a meme claiming that vanilla ice cream was originally a deep black color, but it offended white people so much that its hue was changed in 1912:

One does not need to be a history buff or a culinary whiz to be skeptical of the claim’s veracity. Anyone who has ever made vanilla dishes is probably aware that vanilla packs a lot of flavor into a relatively small bean and is rarely more visible than small dark specks in dishes such as crème brûlée.

Early images of ice cream are easy to find. The oldest we could dig up is from 1876:

1876 ice cream

One from the same era showed boys in London eating pale ice cream, and an 1899 shot of prohibitionist Carry Nation depicted her with a white vanilla cone as well:

1902 ice cream
Photographs from 1900, 1908, and 1909 showed similarly pale ice cream.

We found dozens of photographs of black ice cream, with or without a black cone. The photographs shared a common thread: attribution to New York City ice cream shop Morgenstern’s, and their “coconut ash” flavor:

We contacted a representative for Morgenstern’s in 2017, who told us that the image indeed showed its “coconut ash” flavor and confirmed that they also sold black cones. In 2018, the New York City Department of Health issued a ban on usage of activated charcoal in foods. The flavor has since been removed from the menu.

So although the image of black ice cream was real, its backstory is not. Vanilla ice cream is naturally off-white, and the meme has no basis in fact.